“Nothing lay behind him anymore: nothing lay before him as yet. He was in space.”
Norbert Monde is a responsible, successful Parisian businessman, but on his 48th birthday, he withdraws 300,000 francs from the bank and simply disappears. While his unpleasant wife descends on the police station, he takes a train to Marseilles and quickly becomes absorbed into a new life. Oddly enough, while many people would take the money and whoop it up somewhere glamorous, Monde becomes involved in a tawdry domestic drama.
Author Simenon (author of the Maigret series) subtly explores the possibilities and realities of escape through his protagonist’s adventures. Monde’s desire to simply step out of his life into another is traced back to a childhood memory. He’s always picked up the slack left by the irresponsible behaviour of other people in his life, and then a simple trigger causes him to drop the burden of his old life with its accompanying heavy responsibilities. As Monde escapes, he asks himself, “Was life beginning at last?” But as the saying goes: ‘wherever you go, there you are,’ and Monde is still essentially respectable and responsible no matter the circumstances. He can dump his bourgeoisie life, but he can’t step out of his skin, and so some patterns of behaviour are humorously repetitive.
Monde possesses striking emotional detachment from the drama that surrounds him, but at the same time the novel emphasizes sensory and tactile sensations. Exiled from the cushion of an upper-middle class existence, the odours of poverty assault Monde’s nostrils almost immediately. Stimuli from various sensations flood into Monde’s consciousness and his responses seem to be the only signs that he’s functioning emotionally. A lifetime habit of allowing others to dictate his life has blunted his feelings to the point that they hardly exist. To some, this means he’s a pushover, but Monde finally discovers long-buried resources of determination. In the seedy hotels and bars of Marseilles and Nice, Monde has an unexpected opportunity to resolve some old business and regain his humanity in the process. Monsieur Monde Vanishes is a dark novel certain to please Simenon fans.